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Quelle surprise: Free e-books at Amazon are popular!

The company says readers borrowed 295,000 books in December--and added that sales of the borrowed titles also rose.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read
Some of the Kindle books available for lending.
Some of the Kindle books available for lending. Screenshot by David Carnoy/CNET

Amazon's "Kindle Owners' Lending Library" has gotten off to a smashing start, the e-retail giant announced today.

The company said that Kindle owners borrowed 295,000 Kindle Direct Publishing Select titles last month alone. Amazon had $500,000 in its December fund to compensate authors for the free rentals, and said that the writers earned $1.70 per borrow. Amazon said that authors who made their books available to borrow saw purchases grow, as well.

"KDP Select appears to be earning authors more money in two ways," Russ Grandinetti, Vice President of Kindle Content, said in a statement. "We knew customers would love having KDP Select titles in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. But we've been surprised by how much paid sales of those same titles increased, even relative to the rest of KDP.

"Due to this early success and a seasonally strong January, we're adding a $200,000 bonus to January's KDP Select fund, growing this month's total pool to $700,000," he added.

It's no surprise Amazon spent much of its announcement today focusing on compensation. When the company launched the Lending Library in November for Prime members--who pay $79 a year for two-day shipping and free access to Prime Instant Video--Amazon was coy about payments. The company said only that it had "reached agreement with publishers to include titles for a fixed fee." In other cases, the company said that it would be "purchasing a title each time it is borrowed by a reader under standard wholesale terms as a no-risk trial to demonstrate to publishers the incremental growth and revenue opportunity that this new service presents."

So far, it appears authors are seeing some value in the offering. When Kindle book lending launched, over 5,000 titles were available. According to Amazon, that figure has now grown to 75,000 books, including over 100 former New York Times Bestsellers.

Amazon's lending program lets users take out one book a month for free with no due dates. Titles can be bookmarked and highlighted, and notes can be taken on the books. If users decide to rent them again or buy them, all the marks will be immediately added back.